You’re Only As Good As Your Plan

By Joseph Davis

Recently, I was having a spirited conversation (mostly my spirit) with a fellow communications colleague about what constitutes successful communications strategy. My main question was “How are you approaching the strategy of communicating effectively?”

This broad question begged for specifics. So, my next question was, “Does your organization currently have a communications plan in place?” And my colleague replied, “Of course!” And, I followed up, “What does it look like, what’s in it?”

In what I can only describe as a full-throated description (see defense) of their organizational communications plan, the colleague said, “Well, we created a full year’s project calendar, including all the social media tools we planned to use—and even developed evergreen posts for them!” They were obviously proud.

“Wait,” I said. “That’s it?” “Yep, pretty much,” they said. This led me to think: exactly how many other communicators essentially have no tangible communications plan for their company, client(s) or organization? And, furthermore, how many know what should be included? I imagine we would have subsequently discussed what was essential in a plan—had I not awkwardly ended the conversation staring blankly at them.

Before building a communications plan, you have to understand what it is NOT:

  • An activity or event calendar filled with projects
  • A list of tactics disguised as a strategy (social media usage, digital media deployment, marketing promotions, etc.)
  • A list of social media tools that simply include schedules and/or sample copy
  • A list of communications functions devoid of objectives that can be measured

As we know, every organization is different, and needs vary, so there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all approach to communications planning. With that in mind, there are general guidelines for forming a proper plan.

What a communications plan INCLUDES:

A communications plan acts as a guide for all of your communications initiatives. It establishes what is considered success for you (the communicator), your organization or your client. And it outlines a process of planning and implementation.

Your communications plan should highlight three clear aspects:

Goal

I define this as the actionable output directly related to your organizational mission.

Objective(s)

What is it you’re aiming to achieve, ultimately? This should be measurable.

Strategy

How will you achieve your goals and, therefore, successfully reach your objective? This is your broad outlook for everything you plan to accomplish—your vision, if you will.

Here is what is generally in a communications plan:

  • Summary/Mission/Vision
    This should be easy. A simple summary of the current state of the organization and why the plan is necessary. I assume most organizations have an established mission and vision. State it here, and lay the groundwork for the plan.
  • Challenges
    There should be a discussion of what obstacles may present a problem, albeit internal, external, tools, logistics or competitors. Know what problems you may face.
  • Audience/stakeholders/competition
    The phrase “know your audience” is vital in communications. Include that audience in your plan, along with any stakeholders (include possibilities) and what the competition looks like (the competition element is only relevant depending on your industry).
  • Messages
    This is where the language you plan to use in your marketing/communication materials goes. This should highlight the value your organization brings or how you’re different.
  • Tools/Tactics
    Now you can incorporate your ideas for social media channels, along with other tools and tactics (video, content marketing, collateral, etc.)
  • Cost
    Often, this component is left out of a plan; however, it’s important to have an idea of how the overall organization will be impacted monetarily. How will cost affect reaching objectives or accomplishing goals? This is also important if you charge for services implemented through the plan.
  • Timeline
    How long will it take to reach your goals once the plan is implemented? A broad timeline is a given, and, in many cases, multiple shorter timelines centered on your stated goals can be directly tied to specific tactics.
  • Market Changes
    Any changes in the industry you need to consider that will affect you? Try to prepare for those changes.
  • Measurement/Evaluation
    Measure, measure, measure. Did those tweets and Facebook posts really engage? Did you drive more web traffic? Did sales increase? Did donations increase? Evaluating if all (or any) of your efforts have been successful in meeting your goals is essential for any level of communications planning. You may even have to set periodic measurement benchmarks. Many communicators may want to check in weekly, monthly or quarterly. Whatever the case, measure what you’re doing!

Strategizing on the most effective way to communicate ideas and value should be at the forefront of everything we do. Most communicators know this. If you need some tips on building your communications strategy, visit the PRSA Learning webpage. Since I enjoy asking questions, I have one more—do you have a communications plan?

About the Author

Joseph Davis works in Communications for the City of Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services.

Advertisements

What’s ethics got to do with it?

By Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, Lecturer, Georgetown School of Continuing Studies

As members of PRSA, we are bound by a set of principles and guidelines that provide our ethical framework. The PRSA Code of Ethics sets the standard for the ethical practice of public relations. Have you ever thought what we would do as public relations practitioners if we did not have this code of ethics?

I have. I think about the derogatory words sometimes used to describe our profession – flack, spinmeisters, truth-twisters – and tell myself these terms do not apply to PRSA members. I cringe at the thought of being called a spinmeister. My job is not to spin the truth but to tell the truth. Additionally, we perform our work adhering to a code of ethics. These ethics set us apart from others who may operate under the public relations umbrella.

As an adjunct professor and now as a full-time lecturer, I tell my students that many people say they do public relations, but what separates us from this broader group is our membership in the world’s largest association dedicated to public relations practitioners and our ethics. But is the PRSA Code of Ethics the only element that sets us apart? I don’t think so. In addition to the PRSA Code of Ethics, what about your personal code of ethics?

Each of us should have our personal code of ethics. Our personal ethics are shaped by our belief system, our families and our interaction with others. For most of us in our profession, our personal ethical code closely aligns with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Without question, I believe in honesty, loyalty, independence and fairness. I constantly seek to improve my skills and expertise. And through my clients and employers, I serve the greater good – the public interest – and provide a voice for viewpoints, facts and ideas.

If you remember the television show, “What Would You Do?” ask yourself what would you do if your personal and professional ethics clashed? As I reflect on my career in public relations, I once found myself in the situation where my personal ethics conflicted with the professional PRSA Code of Ethics. Although, the company operations were ethical and legal, my personal ethics code took issue with the overall industry and its commitment to the greater good. In this case, I found myself with limited choices. I tried in vain to find a place with less conflict but I was unsuccessful. In the end, I realized I just could not give all I had to offer professionally, and I found another position in an industry that was better aligned with my personal ethics.

If you encounter a situation where your personal and professional ethics conflict, you do not have to go it alone. PRSA has resources and counseling to help. Contact the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards or the PRSA-NCC Ethics Committee.

About the Author

Brigitte W. Johnson, APR, is a 21-year member of the PRSA-NCC and served as chapter president in 2011. She has 20+ years of experience in public relations, communications and marketing. Her focus is primarily nonprofits – forestry, education, youth development, affordable housing and public health. In 2016, she joined Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies as a lecturer in the public relations corporate communication track. She is a native Washingtonian who enjoys days at the beach, a hike in the woods, all things college sports, film studies, reading and collecting first edition books.

Seven Tips for New Graduates: How to Launch a Successful PR Career

Seven Tips for New Graduates How to Launch a Successful PR Career

By Jen Bemisderfer

I recently attended commencement ceremonies for my alma matter, North Carolina State University. As I sat, waiting for thousands of graduates to stream to their seats inside the arena, I thought back to my own graduation, nearly 20 years ago. To be honest, I didn’t remember much about the day. Who was the speaker? What advice did they deliver? How did I feel? Was I excited? Scared?

For what is supposed to be one of life’s biggest milestones, my memory was fuzzy. What I do remember – clearly – is the first day of my first job. The first day of the rest of my life. I’d had internships in college, but this was different. I had a salary! Healthcare! A 401k! And lots to learn about building a successful career in PR.

For all the new graduates who will be flooding in to the National Capital Area ready to tackle the first day of the rest of YOUR lives, I wanted to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way, as well as some advice from my colleagues at RH Strategic Communications – many of whom have been in your shoes more recently!

Cultivate your network.

You might not know it, but you already have a network. Stay in touch with your professors, your friends from PRSSA and your internship supervisors. Even if you’re making a leap to a brand-new city, make the effort to stay connected. As you grow in your career, you’ll add co-workers, supervisors, even your roommates and friends who are in relevant or adjacent fields. You never know how a connection to someone may lead to a dream job, mutually beneficial relationship or just an interesting conversation.

Take time to read the news.

Any entry level job in PR is going to include monitoring the media. You’re going to feel like you get more than your share of news, but I’d challenge you to go beyond your company or your clients’ industry news. Read The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, CNBC.com and the like. Knowing what’s happening in the world, even if it doesn’t have a direct tie to your day-to-day job, will add context to what you’re working on and will help you understand better what is newsworthy.

Ask for opportunities.

Don’t let your title hold you back. If you want to take a stab at owning a project, ask for it!  Bonus points if you can identify a need that your bosses and co-workers aren’t even aware of yet. “I noticed many of our contacts are out of date. Is it ok if I spend some time updating our company’s broadcast media list?” You’ll get noticed.

Don’t just write. Write well.

Quality writing is the most surefire way to stand out as a new PR professional. In particular, knowing how to translate a more complicated topic into something that’s easily digestible for your client or reporter’s audience is key to success.  Study the OpEd pages of your local newspaper. Ask senior staff for tips on how to write clearly and concisely. Also, knowing AP Style and proper grammar and punctuation is critical!

Learn to love feedback.

It can be hard to hear that your pitch didn’t hit the mark, or your project management skills need improvement. However, it’s also one of the most effective ways to learn. When you get feedback from someone, whether it be a colleague, account manager or a mentor (inside or outside of your organization), challenge yourself to DO something with it.

Differentiate yourself.

Whatever your first job, chances are you won’t be there forever. At some point, you’ll move on to a new opportunity. When you do, it helps to have a personal/professional brand that is unique and is going to stand out from the flood of others with the same training. Look for opportunities to dig deeper and develop skills that will set you apart.

Request informational interviews.

If you’re still looking for the right job or post-graduate internship, don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview, even if the company that you want to work for doesn’t have a position available. It’s a great way to build relationships and learn more about the company or field that could pay dividends in the future.

Good luck, graduates! I hope you all find success, excitement and fulfillment in your PR career. One last tip: Don’t forget to join PRSA!

Consider a Long Term Commitment to Talent Development

Think of your talent development plan long term.

Think of your talent development plan long term, one that helps change behavior, habits, limiting beliefs, and culture over the long hall.

By Freddi Donner, PCC, Team Engagement Specialist

It’s gratifying to see companies initiate changes in their organizations by inviting their leadership to
gather for a day or two to do a deep dive into their way of relating to one another. Usually, these events
help build awareness, open dialogue and urge people to see things from a different perspective.

The participants stop the work to notice how they are working. However, the shelf-life of this often expensive effort is very short and the results that are produced are short term at best.

Think of this in terms of any dramatic change you want in your life: whether you’re thinking of changing careers, gaining or losing weight, building physical strength, fortifying relationships, enhancing your
spirituality, or learning a new language, real change, permanent change, takes time. Real change
requires a long term commitment to a process with repetition, multidimensional training and coaching,
accountability calls, checkups, and demonstrations as support.

Now think of your talent development plan…long term. Instead of thinking about a two day “getaway,”
think about a one to two year investment, one that helps change behavior, habits, limiting beliefs, and
culture over the long hall. One that builds on a series of content that bring a compound affect to the
investment.

And budgeting? How much is this going to cost – is often asked. Although there is no wrong
answer, I do encourage people to think of % of improvement. If you could improve how the team
operates by 10%, what would that look like? What would be happening more of/less of with this
investment? And then build the program around that outcome.

Then, think about taking at least 10% of a person’s salary, and setting that amount aside to invest in them over that 1-2 years. Trust me, if you are not making this minimal investment in them, you are losing the money in other ways – including low energy, malaise, gossiping/complaining, struggling with conflict or stress, and a myriad of other “leaks” in your system.

The talent wars are real. You want better people? Build them internally – invest in them right where
they are on your team. Just like you wouldn’t use cheap steel to build a bridge because it will fail down
the road, don’t skimp here – the costs of a low investment can be life threatening to your bottom line.

About the Author

Freddi Donner is a seasoned executive coach specializing in the power of communication and interpersonal skills to achieve professional growth and business development goals. Freddi founded Business Stamina in 2004 after more than two decades as a corporate marketing executive and successful entrepreneur. She is certified by the International Coaching Federation and is an Authorized Facilitator of Team Coaching International. A thought leader on leadership skills, communication styles, stress management, and teamwork, Freddi provides team and individual coaching for public and private companies, government agencies, and associations. Most of her clients are technical experts who want to learn to connect better with a variety of personality types for the sake of being a more profound leader and increasing followership.

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

 By Meagan Price

“Honesty is the best policy!” It was Benjamin Franklin’s mantra we all learned at a very young age.  While parents everywhere have convinced their children this is true, the corporate world seems to live by “honesty is an ‘okay-maybe-it-works-sometimes’ policy.”

We’ve all seen countless examples of dishonesty in the news and in real life — name your politician, Fortune 500 company, or even your neighbor. We’ve all witnessed how and when a lie comes back to bite the liar and it’s not pretty. I believe that dishonesty has a bigger bite in the business world, particularly in employee engagement and company morale metrics.

In a 2017 New Tech Benchmark study done by Culture Amp, companies with highly engaged employees consistently scored high on employee communications metrics. In Quantum Metrics’ Employee Engagement Survey, only 26% of respondents believed their organization provided honesty and transparency when making changes. Companies that encouraged honest feedback among their employees outperformed competitors by 270% over a 10-year period, according to a 2010 Corporate Executive Board study.

I’ve worked for clients that believed their employees should be the first to know company news, and as a result, employees felt invested in the company’s future. I’ve also dealt with clients that considered employees an afterthought, and consequently employees did not consider their leadership trustworthy. The difference in employee morale was stark.

Employees are entitled to know as much of the story as can legally be shared. They’re your team members and your best assets to bring your company success. Company leaders need to approach their employees as allies and as their company’s best marketing ambassadors.

Employees crave honesty. They need straightforward, no-bull communication from their leaders. Employees can spot a “line” from a mile away. Tell your employees the truth about your company strategy, goals and even finances. Maybe the financial news isn’t great but use communication as an opportunity to share how you’re making it better, what the commitment level is from leadership, and how your employees can help the company succeed.

A motivated employee is your best employee. The corporate world should not discount honesty as the “okay-maybe-it-works-sometimes” policy. It’s the foundation to success. If your employees believe in their leaders, they’ll do whatever it takes to help their company succeed.

About the Author

Meagan Price is an independent communications consultant with nearly 20 years of experience in employee communications. She excels in strategic communications planning, change management communications, and senior leadership writing. Ms. Price uses a blend of creativity, the latest communications trends and a healthy dose of common sense to deliver results for her clients. Connect on LinkedIn @MeaganPrice.

 

 

Looking for Agencies in all the Wrong Places

By Robert Udowitz, RFP Associates

Whether you’re on the agency or client side of public relations, you’ve no doubt encountered the Request for Proposal – or simply, RFP. It’s a bane to most everyone’s existence for a multitude of reasons yet, by design, it truly is the best way to solicit PR services or respond to the need for them.

Naysayers forget that RFPs span most industries and are a generally accepted method of doing business. In fact, when done well – and by that, I mean comprehensively and transparent – they should serve as the most efficient method of agency selection.

In today’s frantic-paced communications departments it’s difficult to devote the resources to create an RFP and identify the right agencies. But how can you consider hiring a public relations firm that you’re willing to pay, say, $250k or more a year – equal to the cost of several employees – without taking the proper precautions to screen, review, test, and verify those firms?

The average search takes 150-200 hours. Surprised? Look at your clock and consider that you need to build a review team, develop the budget, draft the initial RFP, pre-screen agencies (to ensure expertise and eliminate those with conflicts), read/re-read and evaluate all those responses, schedule presentations, and then make a final selection – all while you manage your department without the agency you desperately need.

So what should you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • When searching for an agency, first look inward. Assess your goals and needs AND your current structure’s ability to manage an outside firm.
  • Build an initial search team to set the tone and goals. Doing so will commit a group to strict responsibilities and deadlines that have to be adhered.
  • Create a scorecard from the very beginning, too, so each step of the way you can fairly evaluate and compare what each agency has to offer.

Today’s pool of agency choices is greater than ever before. The large firms have expanded their services and built fully integrated teams. On the other hand, there are many good, smaller specialty firms and independent practitioners that have sprung up that are nimble and cost-effective.

The time and effort it takes to hire a PR firm should begin a long and mutually beneficial relationship. By putting the necessary time, thought and energy on the front-end you’ll become a much more satisfied client that never has to look back with regrets and bemoan your agency to colleagues.

About the Author

Robert Udowitz is a principal with agency search firm RFP Associates, LLC. He can be found at www.rfpassociates.net

Going it Alone: 6 Tips for Prospering as an Independent Communications Consultant

By Laura Porter, Independent Writer and Communications Strategist

“I’ve got a great gig for you, only you’ll need to create your own LLC.”

When a recruiter said those words to me in March 2015, I hesitated. Start my own business? I’d been a communications government contractor for years letting others dictate my job location, work, and role. Did I want to become my own boss?

Working for a federal consulting firm was a comfortable situation for me as I always considered myself risk averse. Then the last project I was on ended and there were no other assignments on which to place me.

Everything involves some level of risk, so why not give it a try, I thought to myself. My first major client lasted over two years. However, it turns out relying on one client is not a good long-term approach for building a sustainable career. Today, I consistently support two to three clients at any one time.

How does a communications professional successfully create and build their own business?  I’m going to share with you what I learned after four years and how you too can thrive as an independent consultant.

Understand Who Your Clients Are and What They Need

While a good communications professional should be able to support clients regardless of the topic, having experience and first-hand knowledge of the fields that your potential clients work in gives you an edge.

The significant experience I had previously working with multiple IT departments unquestionably helped me secure new technology clients. They loved the fact that they didn’t have to explain terms like DevOps or AI, to me and that I could jump in quickly.

If you are looking to break into a new field, read up on that industry and identify opportunities for them to better communicate with stakeholders. They’ll be impressed, and it’s more likely you’ll be hired.

Know What You Want to Do and What You Don’t

Previously, I was sometimes placed in positions that made me feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Communications is a broad term and when you are relying on others to place you in a role, it may not be something you really enjoy.

It’s important to figure out what you really enjoy doing (and do well) and self-identify opportunities where you can use your skills to shine. For me, I love to write blogs, newsletters, and case studies. I’ve now become a go-to-person for content creation.

Reach Out to Your Network Even When You’re Not Looking for Work

It may feel awkward reaching out to someone you haven’t connected with in 10+ years only to ask them for work. If you make a habit out of grabbing coffee with contacts or reaching out to check in with them from time to time via email or LinkedIn, you’ll have better luck when you do need a favor.

These touchpoints help you remain fresh in their minds if an opportunity comes up where you’d be a great fit. I recently completed a wonderful six-month stint with two former colleagues who I last worked with 10 years ago. Staying connected with them over the years made them remember to reach out to me when they had the chance to bring me on to a project.

Embrace Life-Long Learning

Communications tools from five years ago are already obsolete and the use of social media for brand, company, and personal promotion continually evolves. To remain a successful communications consultant, stay up on the newest trends, understand where communication and engagement is headed, and broaden your knowledge of the latest industry tools and technology.

You should also consider listening to podcasts like Inside PR, follow communications experts like Shel Holz (Internal Communication) Jon Winoker (Writing), and/or Pam Hughes (Marketing) on Twitter, or read books like Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story. It’s easy to stay ahead of the curve if you are willing to put in the effort.

Remain Flexible

Becoming your own boss can be especially tempting for working parents. When I first took the plunge, I had visions of greeting my daughter after school in my yoga pants with cookies and milk and cultivating a new hobby.

While there are days when I can greet my daughter and wear my yoga pants to an actual yoga class, sometimes I work longer hours than I did in an office. It’s important to stay flexible to meet your clients’ demands.

The freedom of being your own boss comes with a few strings, but much less than working for someone else.

Don’t Panic When Things Slow Down

Sometimes a sure thing, isn’t so certain. Clients who initially promise a contract extension may reconsider due to financial constraints or changing priorities. Work might ebb or flow based on the season.

To account for potential downswings, consider taking on extra work during other phases. Extend your network through business events, ask your contacts to connect you to their network, and browse online job boards.

I secured one of my largest clients by blindly applying for a part-time copywriter job online for a company based in Richmond, VA. The client wasn’t necessarily looking to make the position a remote one, but was swayed by my experience, writing samples, and interview.

If you want to join me and the other 16.5 million others who make up the growing gig economy, do your homework, reach out to your peers, and enjoy the ride!

About the Author

Laura Porter is an independent writer and communications strategist with 16+ years of experience working with government and private sector clients. Ms. Porter conducts activities as diverse as blog writing, case study creation, change management, technical and non-technical writing, web and video content creation, and implementing internal and external client communications campaigns. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to advance their organization’s mission and get their key messages seen and heard by their target audiences. She currently lives in Arlington, VA with her husband, daughter, and Boston Terrier, Pugsley.